In the early 1970’s, the United Negro College Fund(UNCF)ran a campaign that included a series of PSAs and ads to address the apparent lack of concern over the growing number of Black young people financially unable to attend college.
These advertisements either on TV or in print, always echoed and ended with the same catchphrase: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
How powerful is that?
If that weren’t enough, the TV spots were certain to sell the message. As hopeful images of young Black people were flashed before us, we could hear the lyrics of Ray Charles’ “Reaching for the Dream” echoing those same sentiments in the background: “If you help me join the line-you pull your weight, and I’ll pull mine. We want to give our best, please understand; we’re not asking for a handout-just a hand.” That powerful plea spoke to the hearts of millions of Americans, irrespective of color or background.
Unfortunately, that level of sentiment and concern for success of our youths has gone by the wayside, only to be replaced by policies that desired advancing due to color- as opposed to merit.
In 1926, college boards across the nation began administering a Standard Assessment Test, or SAT. This early preparatory entrance exam was designed(and accurately so) to inform present schools as well as the
potential collegiate boards of the academic status of incoming students. This proved to be a powerful aid to teachers and students for addressing and aiding areas where the youth were lacking. However, current
pedagogical administrators seek to abandon this tried and true method.
A New Plan
In the past few years, those same college boards are now assigning a new standard known as the “Adversity Score.” With this in play, the rules have not only been affected, but the game going forward will be forever changed. As the Wall Street Journal’s Douglas Belkin recently explained, the status quo no longer applies: “This new number, called an adversity score by college admissions officers, is calculated using 15 factors including the crime rate and poverty levels from the student’s high school and neighborhood. Students won’t be told the scores, but colleges will see the numbers when reviewing their applications.” He continues: “Fifty colleges used the score last year as part of a beta test. The College Board plans to expand it to 150 institutions this
fall, and then use it broadly the following year.
The College Board, the New York based nonprofit that oversees the SAT, said it has worried about income inequality influencing test results for years. White students scored an average of 177 points higher than Black students and 133 points higher than Hispanic students in 2018 results. Asian students scored one hundred
points higher than white students. The children of wealthy and college-educated parents outperformed their classmates.”
While this seems benevolent to do, it avoids dealing with two salient points:
- How does this affect those students (not always White) raised in solid, secure non-dysfunctional homes? Are they now punished for the sin of stability?
- Like similar changes to the standard curricula, what is the impact of such policies on straight A, Honor roll students? Are they to be penalized for their academic prowess?
Or, when it comes to students of color, what occurs when they find themselves automatically advancing to classes, subjects, and levels for which they are ill-prepared? Do those standards now need to be adjusted as well?
How dangerous is this, “Adversity Score?”
Timothy Peck of the blog, collegevine.com explains:
“The adversity score was created to give colleges a clearer sense of an applicant’s background, to reduce the impact that wealth and other socioeconomic advantages have on GPA and standardized test scores. It sought to alleviate a common criticism of the SAT: that wealthier students, on average, score higher on the SAT than their low-income peers.
The SAT adversity score was based on a scale of 1 to 100; the higher the score a student received, the less amount of hardship they’ve undergone. To calculate the adversity score, the College Board considered 15
factors—including neighborhood crime rate, poverty level, and school quality.”
As a result of setting such a bar, Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce produced the following findings:
- Top public magnet schools performed exceptionally well in adjusted SAT scores, meaning their scores jump when adversity is accounted for.
- Of the 10% of high schools with the highest SAT scores, a total of 1,035, just 64 had an adversity score of 50 or higher on the College Board’s scale.
- Some of the poorest schools punched well above their weight while some of the wealthiest performed poorly.
The Bigger Picture
As innocuous as ‘Adversity Scores’ sound, Jocilyn Rudisill of Rowan University in civil engineering offers this caveat:
“Rather than lend students a cushion on their SATs, adversity should fuel them to excel. That’s what universities really want to see. From their essays to their interviews and even their grade-point averages, high school students have the space to make their case in full. It’s on them to articulate it.
Colleges are apt to listen—even if an applicant’s grades and test scores aren’t perfect. Admissions departments want to see more than that. They, along with future employers, want character. The value of a strong determination to overcome adversity is unquantifiable, but it can be used to succeed in college and beyond. If a student’s goal is not only to earn a degree but also to build a good life, she will learn early on that adversity is
not something that sets you back, but something to use to propel you forward.”
Exactly Who Can We Blame?
The College Board cannot shoulder all the blame for the way things have progressed. Nor can the world of higher education. The fact that academia has lost sight of their primary focus only speaks to the superior fact that negligent parents have allowed them to do so. Much like we rear our own children, places of higher learning as well as elementary schools have a mandate, not just to get us to the next level to come-but to do so prepared.
Those PSAs of the 70’s not only spoke on behalf of a concerned America, but more so for the challenged and ill-prepared students in expressing, “We want to give our best, please understand; we’re not asking for a handout-just a hand.”
Regardless of race, background, or social status, we must carefully consider the repercussions of those crucial decisions made on behalf of the future leaders of our nation, because despite where you came from, a mind is truly a terrible thing to waste.